In the course of his moving announcement of presidential non-candidacy, Morris Udall compared those innumerable presidential candidate forums to a seduction ritual in which the Democratic candidates oratorically "touch all the erogenous zones of the body politic." Thus, with gentle wit, did Udall warn his party about the political folly of simply promising each constituency interest group what it demands.
While Udall made a humorous reference to a fictional "gay and lesbian Navajo" caucus, the reality is not that much different. As of last weekend, the Democratic National Committee officially recognized a gay and lesbian caucus to join the women's caucus, the Hispanic caucus, the black caucus, the labor caucus, the liberal-progressive caucus and the business and professional caucus as organized and authorized groups within the party.
While deploring the rise of single-issue politics, the Democrats appear determined to encourage the further fragmentation and atomization of the electorate. Hyphenated Democrats will apparently predominate at the 1984 convention, just as they did in 1980, when the only time plain old one-size-fits-all Democrats were even acknowledged was when one of the caucus spokespersons would underline the threat accompanying that caucus's non-negotiable demands with "Let's see how the Democrats do without us in November." The 1984 Democratic Convention looks like it could be another such cultural and ideological trade show.
The Democrats have, of course, always been an eclectic and disparate group. Since FDR, they even seemed to acknowledge their non-homogeneous nature in their pitch to the American electorate, which went something like this: "We Democrats are a party of oddballs. Look at us: immigrants, intellectuals, trade unionists, southerners, Catholics, Jews, blacks, feminists, gays. But if you stick with the Democrats, America, then your economic future and your kids' future will be brighter. That's a promise."
Then came the inflation of the Carter years--25.7 percent in 1979 and 1980--and the American electorate said, in essence, to the Democrats: we not only didn't like the crowd you rode in with, but you don't know how to run the economy, either. Now the Democrats are practicing the politics of the specialty boutique once again. Only this time they aren't so bullish about their ability to bring prosperity to America.
Right after the Cleveland presidential debate in 1980, Jimmy Carter's strategists were publicly ecstatic. The Democratic incumbent had, his aides proclaimed, touched all the right "themes"--women, blue-collar, southern and Hispanic--all the important constituencies. But it did not work, because Carter's opponent was talking to America, not to constituent groups. The fact is that most Americans in 1984 choose to be addressed as individuals, not as members of a group, and most Americans choose to be appealed to in the public interest, not on some narrow special interest.